Community College Board nominees in trouble over stand on undocumented students

Three nominees to the California Community College Board of Governors (BOG) are in trouble with GOP Senators for supporting financial aid to undocumented students.

Republicans now said they are united in denying the nominees the two Republican votes they need to get the necessary two-thirds vote in the Senate–and have Democrats to thank for tipping them off on the issue. All three of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nominees–current board president Kay Albiani, Rose Castillo-Guilbault and John Koeberer–have been acting board members pending Senate approval.

In that role, they approved a legislative agenda that includes support of AB 160, a bill by Senator Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles. Known as the California Dream Act, the bill would allow undocumented students who have at least one year in California high schools to pay in-state tuition at state universities and community colleges. Cedillo got the bill passed last year, but it didn’t get a single Republican vote in either house and was vetoed by the Governor.

The nominations came up at Senate Republicans weekly caucus lunch last Wednesday, said Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman, R-Tustin.

“Everyone who spoke in our caucus discussion was pretty united on this,” he said.

The issue surfaced when the trio went before the Senate Rules Committee on June 6. Senator Bob Dutton, R-Inland Empire, picked up on a question from Senator Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima. Prior to this exchange, Ackerman said, Senate Republicans were not fully aware of the trio’s vote to support Cedillo’s legislation.

“I don’t think we were,” Ackerman said. “That information came up during the Rules hearing.”

Padilla asked Castillo-Guilbault about support for “AB 540 students,” referring to the original 2001 Dream Act by the late Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh. That bill, signed into law by Governor Gray Davis, allows in-state tuition for undocumented students with at least three years in California high schools.

Dutton asked for a “clarification,” asking “did I hear you say that you all support a continued policy that undocumented immigrants should get financial assistance?”

After Cedillo stepped in to explain some points on both current and proposed law, Dutton said, “I won’t debate that with you right now.” He later added, “philosophically, we obviously have a difference of opinion in that area.” Dutton then addressed some of these difference, at one point comparing employers who hire undocumented immigrants to “some guy in a schoolyard with a bunch of candy enticing children.”

Dutton voted in Rules to support the nominees, who passed the Rules Committee 4-0. But he then prepared a memo for the next week’s caucus lunch, saying “I discovered they have taken public positions in support of making more illegal aliens eligible for residency fees and additional financial assistance at colleges and universities.”

“I was just trying to bring it to their attention what the record was,” Dutton said. However, the discussion quickly gelled into opposition to the nominations, however.

“Frankly, I think there needs to be less politics in the educational system,” Dutton added. “They’ve got a big enough job.”

The Dutton’s letter also noted, “In follow-up conversations, John W. Koeberer has indicated that he will simply enforce the law. The previous votes were minor parts of a larger agenda.”

Koeberer is also the only registered Republican of the three, and has given to several GOP campaigns over the years. However, according to Dutton and Ackerman, it is unlikely he would get the Republican votes he needs. Koeberer voted along with other members of the 17-person board, first in January to support the Cedillo bill “in concept” and again in March to certify the full legislative agenda.

The administration said that they’re still planning on putting the nominees up for a full Senate confirmation, and are working to secure the votes they need. Albiani is the mother of Dennis Albiani, a former Schwarzenegger legislative affairs deputy who is now a lobbyist.

A spokesman for the Community Colleges Chancellor’s office said they would not comment on the Governor’s pending nominees.

Cedillo expressed disappointment at the GOP opposition based on his bill. In most cases, he said, Senate Democrats have supported the Governor’s nominees as long as they showed the competence and willingness to work within the law.

“Republicans seem to be operating with a different threshold,” Cedillo said. “They seem to be working with the criteria that anyone who disagrees with them on immigration is not qualified to serve. It’s un-American.”

Both Cedillo and Padilla are well-known friends and admirers of Firebaugh, who died in March of last year after a long fight against hepatitis. Cedillo co-authored Firebaugh’s AB 540.

In February, Senator Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, has introduced a bill to revoke SB 540. SB 268 “would delete a person without lawful immigration status from eligibility for paying nonresident tuition at the California Community Colleges and the California State University.” It was rejected by a 6-2 vote in the Senate Education Committee in April and is currently inactive.

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